By Jane Hill
OXFORD – First National Bank in Oxford and the Faulkner (or Falkner) family share a long, colorful history that continues to the present day.
John Wesley Thompson Falkner, grandfather of author William Faulkner, was a bank founder and served as president of First National from 1910 to 1922, when he was voted out by the board of directors.
According to family lore, “Young Colonel Falkner” was so incensed at being replaced that he withdrew the $30,000 he had in the bank in cash, loaded it up in a wheelbarrow and wheeled it across the street to the newly founded Bank of Oxford.
However, neither the family nor the institution appear to have held a grudge over the dramatic breakup of 1922.
This week First National Bank bank officials announced plans to contribute $5,000 to a non-profit fund to erect a statue of William Faulkner on the Oxford Square in time for the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth on Sept. 25, 1997.
“We think Faulkner is a very integral part of the history of Oxford and Lafayette County,” said William Gottshall, president and CEO of First National Bank of Oxford. “We are proud to be the first to put some seed money into this project.”
Erecting a memory
Oxford Mayor John Leslie said a total of $50,000 will be needed to fund the statue project, which was conceived by retired Oxford physician Dr. Chester McLarty.
“William Faulkner is the most important literary figure of this century,” said Leslie. “We wanted to honor him and his contributions to world literature.”
Leslie said the statue will be placed on the south side of the front steps of Oxford City Hall, which once was the city’s post office. Faulkner was known to walk to the post office daily to check his mail. While there he would pause on the top step of the building or down by an old letter drop box to observe activity on the Square and occasionally eavesdrop on local residents.
“The people who knew Bill are thinning out pretty fast,” McLarty said. “This statue will serve as a tangible bridge between the people who did know him and those who did not. And what better milestone to make such an observance than his 100th birthday?”
The statue project is being commissioned through the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council of Oxford. McLarty said the first phase of the fund-raising drive will be to contact other financial institutions, corporations and industries in the city and county to find out if they would be willing to participate before asking the general public to donate to the fund.
Dean Faulkner Wells, the author’s niece, said she is particularly pleased that the council is seeking to contract with local sculptor William Beckwith to design the statue.
Larry Wells, Dean Faulkner Wells’ husband, said the statue has been conceived to show Faulkner in an attitude he often adopted while tending to business on the Oxford Square.
“He will appear as he often did, wearing his hat with his pipe in his hand, looking out over the scene and studying the people and the place,” Wells said.
First National Bank had a brief association with William Faulkner himself, who at his grandfather’s behest tried his hand at keeping the bank’s cash ledger in 1918.
According to research conducted by Thomas Lamar into First National Bank records, the 19-year-old Faulkner only worked at the bank from January through March 1918. Opinions differ as to the precise reason he left his position as bookkeeper, but family members seem to think it had as much to do with heartaches over a childhood sweetheart as headaches over the ledger.
Murry “Chooky” Falkner, who knew the author as “Brother Will,” said when Faulkner learned that the girl he was in love with, Estelle Oldham, was planning to marry Cornelle Franklin, he walked out of the bank in the middle of the work day and never returned.
Gottshall said there are no bank employees left who remember Faulkner’s banking apprenticeship.
“I can’t report on his aptitude as a bookkeeper, but my guess is, since he wasn’t here long, that banking did not suit his personality,” Gottshall said. “All I can say is that I’m very glad he decided to take up a career in writing.”